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33 Memorandum prepared by Delegation to Imperial Conference [1]

Memorandum E (37) 29 LONDON, 28 May 1937

MOST SECRET (limited circulation)


At the opening meeting of the present Conference it was indicated
by the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of Australia, Mr Lyons,
that Australia would greatly welcome a regional understanding and
pact of non-aggression among the countries of the Pacific,
conceived in the spirit of the principles of the League, and that,
to this end, Australia was prepared to collaborate with all other
peoples of the Pacific in a spirit of understanding and sympathy.

[2] Mr Lyons, at the meeting of Principal Delegates held on the
22nd May, indicated generally what he had in mind, and stated that
a friendly understanding in the Pacific would contribute to a
settlement of difficulties, tend to hold the situation in the
critical period ahead, and alleviate the position of the United
Kingdom Government. It was agreed that the Australian Government
should submit a memorandum elaborating the proposal. [3]

The idea of a Pacific Pact is one in which the Australian
Government has long been interested, and to which it has given
close attention. It was raised specifically by the Minister for
External Affairs, Sir George Pearce [4], and the Attorney-General,
Mr Menzies [5], in submitting the Government's proposals for the
reform of the League Covenant to the Australian Senate and the
House of Representatives respectively in September of last year at
the time of the meeting of the Assembly at Geneva. In putting
forward these proposals the Australian Government assumed that its
foreign policy would remain based on, and harmonised with, the
collective system of the League of Nations. It realised that the
continued acceptance of League principles is a powerful factor in
preserving the unity of the British Commonwealth of Nations,
provided some practical way could be found of making the Covenant
more effective in meeting ever-changing political and economic
conditions. To the Australian Government there seemed to be no
visible alternative to the League system as a foundation of
foreign policy. It appreciated that the focal point of League
reform is Article 16, with its purpose of maintaining peace
through the coercive action of sanctions when other provisions of
the Covenant have failed to effect a settlement. The experience of
the Italo-Abyssinian dispute has shown certain defects in the
application of Article 16, but there were weighty reasons for
maintaining its provisions in some form, one of them being that
'it forms a reasonable basis for regional agreements in the
framework of the League.' It was (and is), the view of the
Australian Government, however, that some modification of Article
16 was necessary, to prevent States being automatically obliged to
take coercive measures which might be ineffective or so dangerous
as to commit their peoples to war, which might conflict with
vitally [sic] national interests, or which might relate to a
dispute in which the State had no immediate interest. It felt,
however, that States, by virtue of agreements covering regions
where their national interests are directly involved, might, if so
desired, agree to render mutual assistance in the event of one or
more of them being attacked by an aggressor. States, and
especially European States, would be invited to enter such
regional agreements within the framework of the League, and
subject to the spirit and provisions of the Covenant.

So far as Australia is concerned, the Pacific is the area in which
the Australian Government is most vitally concerned for the
maintenance of peace. The Australian Government fully realises
that any pact of mutual assistance for the Pacific, having a
military character, is neither practicable nor desirable, as a
Pact of this nature would command little support, and would only
add to the commitments of the British Commonwealth. The Australian
Government rather has in mind an understanding which will lead to
a diminution and not an augmentation of commitments. It is felt
that the promotion of a regional understanding in the spirit of
the League undertakings for countries of the Pacific might
reasonably be accepted as an objective.

It will have been noted that no definite suggestions have been put
forward as to what form such a pact would take, for it is fully
appreciated that there must be the most careful examination and
consideration as to what degree of unanimity and agreement is

There are signs that Japan is prepared to collaborate with the
United Kingdom with a view to arriving at an Anglo-Japanese
rapprochement, and conversations for such a rapprochement might,
it is thought, include the possibility of reaching a wider
understanding, embracing eventually all countries of the Pacific.

This would seem to be the most suitable starting-point, and it is
considered essential to the success of the proposal that such a
rapprochement should be reached. The progress of the conversations
which were initiated last year with the Japanese Ambassador have
been followed by the Australian Government with the deepest
interest, and early in March last the Australian Government
despatched a telegram to the United Kingdom Government in the
following terms:-

'Commonwealth Government has followed with the closest attention
and interest the question of Anglo-Japanese relations as indicated
in various Foreign Office Memoranda, and especially those
conversations on the Japanese Ambassador's memorandum of last

The Commonwealth Government feels the promotion of better
relations and a closer understanding between Great Britain and
Japan would be highly desirable from the point of view of
Australia. The recent agreement against Communism between Germany
and Japan, the attitude of Japan towards Naval disarmament and
other international agreements, and the campaign for the Southward
advance policy have created a feeling of perturbation in this
country which a definite understanding with Japan, perhaps in
general terms on the idea of the recent Anglo-Italian Pact, would
go a long way to dispel.

The fact that the overtures were initiated by Japan and
conversations continued after the German agreement was concluded
seem to indicate that Japan is anxious to arrive at some definite

Should the present political situation in Japan not jeopardise
this favourable atmosphere, the Commonwealth Government hopes that
His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom will lose no
opportunity of pursuing the matter to a mutually satisfactory
conclusion.' [6]

Any new Anglo-Japanese understanding would presumably include some
declaration of mutual policy respecting the integrity and
independence of China, and the continued maintenance of the open
door policy. It is felt that, if China could receive guarantees
against any further acts of aggression or violation of her
sovereignty on the part of Japan, she would be ready to
collaborate in a wider Pacific agreement.

In this respect Mr Eden stated at the fourth meeting that 'China
appeared to be ready to respond to genuine advances, and,
recently, a Chinese Minister, Dr Kung, had stated that China would
be ready to go half-way in order to secure a really satisfactory
arrangement with Japan.' The Commonwealth Government has also been
approached direct by representatives of the Chinese Government
during the last week, who stated that they viewed the suggestion
with a considerable degree of interest and would be prepared to
collaborate to the full in arriving at a general agreement
covering the Pacific region. [7]

There are also indications that Japan desires to establish closer
and more friendly relations with the United States.

Mention has already been made at the Conference by the Prime
Minister of Canada, Mr Mackenzie King, and the Prime Minister of
Australia, Mr Lyons, of conversations which took place between
them and the President of the United States [8], and the very
direct statements made by him in connection with security in the

In addition, the Australian Government has evidence that the
Netherlands East Indies are apprehensive about their position, are
concerned with Japanese penetration, and believe that their future
safety is closely linked with that of the members of the British
Commonwealth of Nations, and more especially of Australia. This
being so, it is felt that the Dutch would willingly co-operate in
the promotion of any regional understanding which has as its
objects the maintenance of the status quo.

France was one of the original signatories of the Quadruple
Treaty; and, being anxious and ready to co-operate with the
British Commonwealth in all efforts to promote peace, would
probably be prepared to entertain favourably the proposal,
especially as she has extensive and largely unprotected interests
in the Pacific.

The possibility of inducing the U.S.S.R. and Japan to collaborate
in a Pacific regional pact may seem at present remote, but, with
the lapse of the Washington Treaties of 1922 [9], the way is now
open for Russia to join in a new understanding to cover the
Pacific region. At the time of the Washington Conference Russia
was a negligible factor in Pacific affairs, but with her rapid
accession to strength, the possibility of her clashing with Japan
is a disturbing element in the present situation. The tension
between the two countries is, however, less acute than it was a
year ago, and as it is understood that Russia had a grievance in
that she had been excluded from the Quadruple Treaty of the
Washington Conference (between the United Kingdom, United States,
France and Japan), it is felt that the U.S.S.R. might now be
prepared to collaborate in a new understanding.

The Washington Treaties had the effect of contributing, in large
measure, to the maintenance of the status quo and the preservation
of peace in the Pacific over a period of no less than 15 years.

The Australian Government feels that at the present time there are
tendencies which are likely to endanger the status quo, that an
era of heavy competition in armaments is threatened, and that the
economic and financial position of the Pacific countries may, in
consequence, be jeopardised. It will be recollected that the
Washington Treaties lapsed at the end of 1936, and it is felt to
be highly desirable that some step in the direction of replacing
them should be taken before the position in the Pacific
deteriorates. The Australian Government feels that it would be
premature to discuss, in the present Memorandum, the form which
any Pacific Pact might take, pending the ascertainment of the view
of the United Kingdom and of the Dominions on the general idea.

In this respect the Australian Government appreciates that the
proposal cannot be advanced unless it commands the whole-hearted
support and co-operation in carrying it to fruition, of His
Majesty's Governments in the United Kingdom, Canada and New

It is suggested that provisions, somewhat along the general lines
of the lapsed Quadruple Treaty of 1922, might form a basis of
discussion. The provisions of that Treaty included the following:-

'With a view to the preservation of the general peace and the
maintenance of their rights in relation to their insular
possessions and insular dominions in the region of the Pacific
1. The High Contracting Parties agree as between themselves to
respect their rights in relation to their insular possessions and
insular dominions in the region of the Pacific Ocean.

If there should develop between any of the High Contracting
Parties a controversy arising out of any Pacific question and
involving their said rights which is not satisfactorily settled by
diplomacy and is likely to affect the harmonious accord now
happily subsisting between them, they shall invite the other High
Contracting Parties to a joint conference to which the whole
subject will be referred for consideration and adjustment.

2. If the said rights are threatened by the aggressive action of
any other Power, the High Contracting Parties shall communicate
with one another fully and frankly in order to arrive at an
understanding as to the most efficient measures to be taken,
jointly or separately, to meet the exigencies of the particular

It is submitted also that the proposed Pact might, in addition to
the political collaboration envisaged in the Quadruple Treaty,
embrace a general declaration of economic and cultural
collaboration; a guarantee of non-aggression and respect for each
other's sovereignty; and a reiteration of the principle of the
Paris Pact to the effect that war was renounced between them as an
instrument of national policy.

The Australian Government would appreciate the views of the
Imperial Conference on the suggestion for a Pacific Pact, and if
the general idea should meet with approval, it would further

(a) A discussion as to possible forms which the Pact might take;

(b) A discussion as to what initial steps should be taken;

(c) Consideration whether the Conference might pass a resolution
in respect to the proposal.

1 The rough notes for this memorandum were prepared by W. R.

Hodgson (Adviser to the Australian delegation) and written up by
A. T. Stirling. The draft was subsequently amended by Hodgson, S.

M. Bruce and R. G. Casey.

2 Document 25.

3 Document 29.

4 Commonwealth Parliamentary Debates, vol. 151, pp. 644-45.

5 ibid., pp. 622-23.

6 Document 12.

7 No documentation of this approach has been located.

8 See Document 29, note 5; see also Eden's speech, 2 June 1937,
Document 36.

9 The Washington Conference, 21 November 1921-6 February 1922,
attended by Britain, France, Italy, Portugal, Belgium, Holland,
Japan, China and the U.S., resulted in a series of treaties:

(i) a collective guarantee of China's independence (the Nine Power

(ii) a British-French-Japanese-American guarantee of each other's
Pacific territories (the Quadruple Treaty);

(iii) an undertaking by Japan to restore Kiaochow to China;

(iv) a naval convention pledging the powers not to build capital
ships for ten years, and establishing a ratio for capital ships of
5:5:3 between Britain, the U.S. and Japan.

The treaties were to remain in force until two years after
notification of withdrawal by any of the signatories. Additional
agreements on naval limitations were later reached in London to
apply from 31 December 1930 until 31 December 1936.

On 29 December 1934 Japan gave notice of withdrawal from the
provisions of the Washington naval treaty, which caused it to
lapse at the end of 1936.

After a series of conversations and a further Naval Conference in
London from 9 December 1935 until 25 March 1936 a new treaty was
signed which put limits on capital ships and guns, and provided
for advance notification of new construction. This treaty was
signed by the British Commonwealth, France and the U.S., provision
being made for Japan and Italy to accede to it later if they
wished. On 23 June, however, the Japanese Cabinet formally decided
not to adhere to it, nor did Italy ever accede. Germany, which had
announced agreement in principle while the 1936 Treaty was still
in draft, finally concluded a bilateral treaty with Britain on 17
July 1937, as did the U.S.S.R. It was only after this, on 29 July
1937, that the British Commonwealth finally ratified the London

[AA : A981, PACIFIC 23]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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